1. The debate was annoying. Way too much time on the fake issue of earmarks—with Santorum seeming shrill and defensive and Newt making the statesmanlike point that it’s a fake issue. (I agree with Pete below on the line of questioning being shameful.)

2. In general, Santorum was on the defensive and very short on eloquence. Romney constantly gave the impression of taking the game to him—including going after him on support for Specter etc. and audaciously claiming that that support was the real cause ObamaCare became law. Santorum gave confusing answers on the women-in-combat and contraception questions, and he should have been very ready to handle them. He left it to Newt to explain why the contraception question shouldn’t have been asked and work in Obama’s vote for infanticide as genuine extremism, and to Romney to go off on Obama’s attack on the liberty of religious institutions.

3. Romney generally seemed more commanding and presidential—on the religion/conscience question and on foreign policy etc.

4. Most of all, Santorum didn’t display his strengths or have even one killer answer. He didn’t force Romney out of the pocket, so to speak. His attack on RomneyCare seemed like old news, even if Romney’s defense of it didn’t get any better either. Santorum seemed slightly less than prepared for being center stage in prime time. He didn’t come off as the admirable, overachieving defender of the common Republican man.

5. Because nobody was attacking him, Newt was free to be Newt and so probably actually won the debate on both style and subtance. That doesn’t mean he’s coming back.

6. The debate ended with each candidate being given an opportunity to clear up some misconception about himself. Romney just went into his standard vacuous stump speech. When an objection was raised, his response was you ask the questions you want, I’ll give the answers I want. He could have said something cool like some people don’t think I’m a real conservative, but . . .

7. My impression is Santorum’s momentum was ebbing a bit over the last couple of days anyway. This debate will probably contribute a bit to his fade. Nothing happened, I think, to increase enthusiasm for Romney, and so the race is still on.

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